Teaching Citizen Science in the Chihuahuan Desert

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Every July, amateur and professional naturalists descend on the Chiricahua Desert Museum located on the border of New Mexico and Arizona. Their purpose: to observe and document as many living species in the area as possible over a 24-hour period. The annual Charlie W. Painter BioBlitz is an important tool to engage the public in science and to help us better understand the long-term ecological trends in the Chihuahuan Desert.

New this year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is hosting an educator workshop in conjunction with the BioBlitz. More than 20 teachers from across the southwest will participate. During the workshop, these educators will get to experience the very things that make the Chihuahuan Desert so special and unique while also learning about the role that citizen science projects, like BioBlitzes, play in our understanding of the natural world. They will leave with resources and ideas to bring back to their classrooms as they start the new school year. It is our hope that the participants will gain a greater appreciation of the Chihuahuan Desert and share that passion with their students!

We are very pleased that the Chiricahua Desert Museum, along with the Geronimo Event Center, has opened their doors for this unique opportunity. To learn more about this facility, visit https://www.chiricahuadesertmuseum.com/.

For more information about the Charlie W. Painter BioBlitz, visit https://www.cwpbioblitz.com/.

And finally, if you would like more information or are interested in participating in the teacher workshop, visit http://bit.ly/BioBlitzEducator.

Participation in both the BioBlitz and the teacher workshop are free!

 

The elusive alligator lizard

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Texas alligator lizard climbing an alligator juniper in Big Bend National Park.  Photo By Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello

Not everyone living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert is familiar with one of the coolest and least known lizards in our eco-region, the Texas alligator lizard.   More people in West Texas have seen alligator junipers than they have alligator lizards.  The lizards are very elusive and live in higher elevation habitats like the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.  You can see a list of 2019 observations in alligator lizard country on iNaturalist.org

The iNaturalist map below will give you some idea of just where people are seeing this lizard today.

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When I was a park ranger in Big Bend I hiked the trails in the Chisos Mountains several times a week.  I saw these lizards very infrequently and only on sunny days when they were hunting in the leaf litter and I could hear movement along the trail.

As far as I know the alligator lizard is the only lizard in the United States with a prehensile tail.  Some say it is relict species surviving on desert islands like the Chisos from a period before the last ice age when most of the region was covered by a temperate deciduous forests.   Imagine a time when the desert was covered by forests with alligator lizards in the trees.

 

Do you know this boulder?

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This large boulder is along the road to the Aguirre Springs Campground at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.   Anyone know its geology?  I wonder if it fell off the cliffs in the background and rolled across the desert or if when they made the road they simply moved it out of the way.   Let’s talk Chihuahuan Desert geology.   Please forward this blog to any of your geologist friends out there.

Join for FREE!

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We love our desert and are so excited about how more and more people in El Paso are working together to conserve the natural world around us.   On June 18, 2019 the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition Board of Directors approved a new plan to increase the conservation impact of our organization – FREE MEMBERSHIP.  That’s right, FREE MEMBERSHIP.  We are also working on a new list of projects that anyone with the interest can be involved in support of our efforts.  In the coming years we want to engage thousands of people in support of our mission in serving as a resource on information about the Chihuahuan Desert, encouraging lifelong learning about the Chihuahuan Desert and collaborating efforts among public educators, the public and CDEC.

It’s so easy to join.  All you need to do is fill out our membership application and you are a member.

Ongoing projects include:
-Improving our website at chihuahuandesert.org
-Helping to organize the annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Tom Mays Park in September
-Promoting a Certified Habitat program that encourages people to landscape with native Chihuahuan Desert plants

MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS include:
-The good feeling of knowing that you are helping others understand and appreciate our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert
-Invitation to events like Membership Meetings, the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta and Special Programs

 

 

Celebrating life in the desert

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and Franklin Mountains State Park invites you to be a part of the 15th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Tom Mays Park on Saturday, September 28, 2019. We are looking for local organizations to offer interactive educational activities, knowledgeable people to offer guided walks and demonstrations and musical groups and dancers. Sign up today or contact us for more information.

For the love of frogs

By Rick LoBello

It’s frog time again and I was happy to see it raining last night. It was probably a little too cool for most frogs to be out and about, but then again I didn’t have a chance to go outside and look.

As the days get warmer and the rains return frog time in the Chihuahuan Desert is critical to the survival of many species that have been waiting underground for the right time to breed. Not every frog that buried itself last summer to estivate during the cooler dry season will wake up if it did not eat enough to see it through. Soon the survival of the fittest will come into play when the survivors of 2018 awaken.

If you have never experienced seeing frogs calling at night you are missing out on an amazing primordial event. Check out this video I uploaded a while back to see what I mean. Two of the common species in El Paso are Couches spadefoot toad and the red-spotted toad.

Let’s connect

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One of the graphics we installed at Cleveland Square in downtown El Paso.

by Rick LoBello, Chair

Some of the nicest people you will ever meet love and appreciate the great outdoors.  The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition based in El Paso is one of those groups.   If you would like to learn more about our desert region and make some new friends at the same time, connect with us at one of our meetings.   We can answer questions and if you want to get involved with helping us there are numerous ways you can share your talent and skills.

One of the projects we would like to improve over time is our habitat certification program.  The goal is to encourage people to landscape with native plants to help conserve water and create more habitat for desert neighbors who have been displaced by development projects.   Unfortunately El Paso as a city has yet to value the desert enough to want to protect it better.    It may cost a little bit more and take some effort, but why not leave the desert soils alone and leave nature as we found it by developing with it rather than against it?

Check out this picture.   One of my best friends his wife built this house about five years ago and were very careful to keep the desert intact.  It is so refreshing to live in a desert home like this rather than one surrounded by a concrete jungle.
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Lechuguilla, creosote bush and desert succulents like cactus, ocotillo and yucca surround my friends home in the desert and he did not have to plant a single one.

We are currently meeting once a month working on improving our organization and a strategic plan.   If you would like to learn more and receive a meeting invite contact us.
We meet at various locations in El Paso on the third Tuesday of the month at 7pm.

Enjoy the Chihuahuan Desert.

 

Volunteers needed for Saturday event

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You can help us reach more people about the Chihuahuan Desert and our mission by volunteering from noon to 4pm to help promote CDEC at Trash to Treasure on Saturday, April 27.   Fifty percent of the events proceeds will be donated to CDEC.  To sign up contact Liz Demoultrie at amdemoultrie@aol.com/915-588-7200.

The event is expecting 200-500 people at the International Museum of Art 1211, Montana Ave. 79902.  Set up will begin at noon.  They are having a preview party for a small group from 1-2, then the general public will be allowed in from 2-4.

We will meet with you before the event to give you materials to pass out at our table.  If you have a small table you can bring that would also be helpful.  If not we will get one for you.

 

We’re looking for you

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Kangaroo rats will often burrow in the softer desert soil either under a cactus or desert shrub like creosote.

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition is looking for new members to serve on our board of directors or volunteer for projects that may take an hour or less or a day at the park.  We are looking everywhere and would love to hear from you.    Currently we are meeting the third Tuesday of the month at 7pm.  All members and non-members are invited to attend.

To get on our meeting invite list please contact us.
To learn how to become a member click here.

Don’t miss this nature walk on Saturday

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Discover our vanishing Rio Grande wetlands

By Rick LoBello

If I were to list a handful of names of people in El Paso who really know and understand the most threatened natural environments in our area, John Sproul would be one of them.   For many years John has been the face of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park in the Lower Valley.  His hard work and passion for conserving our vanishing wetlands is obvious to this observer and hundreds of others who have met him.   On Saturday, March 23 John will lead a two hour walk through the wetlands in one of the least known areas of El Paso.  If you have never been to this part of El Paso now is the time to make plans.

The FREE two-mile easy walking tour of the park will be from 9am to 11am.   Coming from the north on Loop 375 take the Pan American Exit and turn left under the freeway.  Travel 1.5 miles until you reach the bridge crossing the Riverside Canal.  For more details on how to get there especially if you are going for the first time, visit the park’s website at Riobosque.org.   The site is loaded with all kinds of great information including a map, management plans and more about the park’s flora and fauna.

Join John this weekend and if you can’t make it get on his email list to learn more about upcoming events and volunteer information by emailing John at jsproul@utep.edu.